Australia should “rebrand” to entice workers from overseas to fill vacant jobs as quickly as possible, Business Council of Australia chief executive officer Jennifer Westacott says.
The business council has released a paper proposing several short-term fixes to help the economy weather the storm of high inflation, supply chain issues and a skilled worker shortfall approaching 500,000 jobs.
Its release follows Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ sobering economic update to parliament on Thursday, in which he revealed inflation is expected to peak at a higher than expected 7.75 per cent by the end of the year.
Ms Westacott told the ABC more immediate relief could be found by fast-tracking visas, offering extensions to working holiday-makers and pathways to permanent residency for international students.
“If you can’t get someone to pick your fruit, if you can’t get someone to do the work, that just goes straight into shortages and prices,” she said.
“We’ve got to actually rebrand Australia as a place where we want people to come and work.”
Ms Westacott said the prime minister’s jobs and skills summit on September 1 would be a “big opportunity” to “reset around the big issues”.
The summit will aim to bring employers, interest groups and unions together to find “common ground” on enterprise bargaining, migration and other issues in a bid to boost productivity and get wages moving.
“But in the meantime, what we’re saying is we should pull every lever that’s in our control, to get rid of friction and blockages in the economy,” Ms Westacott said.
Ms Westacott said rising inflation would heighten the pain already being felt by businesses, even if they were in “better shape” than those in other countries.
She also suggested cutting red tape as an immediate priority.
The chief executive of Victoria’s peak business body is preparing his own pitch to the federal government on ways to boost the economy in the short term. Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra has also called for visa extensions and improved pathways to jobs for international students.
“Second, (we should) accelerate the visa approvals (process). We know there’s a backlog. Let’s get that backlog cleared,” he told 3AW radio.
“And importantly, maybe it’s time temporarily to relax skill list requirements so we get people in the country who can work.”
The updated Treasury forecasts released on Thursday also include weaker than expected economic growth and falling real wages.
Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy has urged the government to begin repairing the budget as quickly as possible to contain debt and to bolster the coffers for other crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Clearly, we are now around full employment, and it is appropriate for fiscal consolidation to now occur and for monetary policy to normalise,” Dr Kennedy said in a speech to The Australian National University on Wednesday night, which was published on Friday morning.
The Treasurer is yet to outline a detailed plan to repair the budget, but he has accused his predecessors of accumulating a “trillion dollars in debt, with nothing to show for it”.
He will deliver his first budget on October 25.